Skip to content

Are we French yet? by Keith Van Sickle

This book is the follow up to Keith Van Sickle’s One Sip at a Time, and I am pleased to say I enjoyed it even more than the first. In ‘Are We French Yet?’, we learn more about the author’s further immersion in Provence life which he undertakes with his wife Val. I loved reading all the vignettes about the couple’s experiences with the language, culture, food and people. They are courageous in their efforts to learn French and some of their linguistic adventures make very entertaining reading.

As a lover of France and its people myself, I found each chapter full of interesting titbits, but above all, his accounts of the friendships they made and the kindness of their French neighbours and acquaintances were heartwarming. The book is light in tone and easy to read, and I can recommend it to anyone who loves France or who would like to spend time in the country, especially in Provence.

The link to the book on Amazon US is here, but it is available on all Amazon marketplaces.

A Kiss Behind the Castanets by Jean Roberts

I’ve just finished and enjoyed this memoir about author Jean Roberts’ purchase of a second home in Spain. I found there was a good mix of personal experience and local information, as well as some interesting history I didn’t know before. There are also a few salutary lessons to be learned about buying a property in Spain that require both renovations and care-taking.

That said, the author is clearly in love with the country and most, if not all, things Spanish. She is as candid about those aspects she doesn’t like so much as she is about what she really loves and her honesty is refreshing. This is not a book that would motivate me to move to Andalucia – the downsides are the type that would put me off – but I enjoyed learning more about it through her light, easy style, especially the parts about village life and the language.

The link to the book is here

Two reviews: 1. An English teacher in Mexico by Irene Pylypec

I was sent an ARC copy of this book motivated my own background as an ESL teacher, and I am happy to say I found it both entertaining and informative. Irene Pylypec decides to become an English teacher at the age when most people choose to remain settled in a career for the rest of their working lives. I really loved the author’s accounts of working in a language school in a busy Mexican town. I found I could relate well to many of her experiences and understood her difficulties and frustrations with the different language, systems and attitudes to education. I also enjoyed being taken around places of interest in Mexico with Irene and the friends who adopted her. Her style is very personal and she ‘talks’ to the reader, so I felt totally involved in her life there. Altogether, this was a lively, fascinating and fun travel memoir with the added interest of learning about the life of an English language teacher in a foreign country.

The link to the book on Amazon US is here but it is available on all Amazon marketplaces.

2. Anthills, Elephants and other Fascinations by Rina Flanagan

This collection of anecdotes about the author’s childhood in Zimbabwe ticked all my boxes. I love childhood memoirs, I love Africa and I love gentle humour and self-deprecation. Rina Flanagan has combined all three of these into her stories of growing up, from her earliest memories to the day she finishes school. Easy to read, rich in description and colourful characters, I was particularly touched by her fondness for the Zimbabwean people, both Shona and Ndebele. I read this book in two evenings and smiled when I finished. It was lovely to be back in Africa in my mind. Thank you, Rina!

The link to the book on Amazon US is here, but is available on all Amazon marketplaces.

Damson Skies and Dragonflies by Lindy Viandier

This is the first book in what promises to be a lovely series of anecodotal memoirs. Lindy Viandier, an English woman married to a French man lived in Paris for several years before she and her husband decided to buy a dilapidated old house in Burgundy, a house they both fell in love with at first sight.

This book charts their first year as custodians of a building that they soon learn is rich in history and character, and redolent in so many ways of its past owners.

Every page is a charming peep into Lindy’s world and her observations about her life, her relationship with her Mr V, the people she meets, the countryside around them and the situations in which they find themselves. They brave raging tempests, bitter cold and glorious Burgundian heat in a house barely fit to camp in, but they do so with humour, love and a poetic sense of what the house needs. There are also lovely encounters with local cats, who decide to adopt them, in spite of the somewhat passive aggressive response by their own feline companion, Pussy Willow, a character in her own right.

Each chapter is separated from the next by recipes (that will delight foodies) as well as beautifully drawn chapter headings. I found I did not need to read it all in one go; it is a book to dip into and savour. In fact, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading it over the past few weeks and found it a refreshing change from the usual memoir format with its lovely details and descriptions that make the reader feel intimately involved with Lindy Viandier’s thoughts. Highly recommended.

The link to the book on Amazon is here

The Scenicland Radio by Simon Michael Prior

I read and enjoyed Simon Michael Prior’s first book, The Coconut Wireless, but I have to say I enjoyed this one even more. Following their holiday in Tonga (the subject of his first book), Simon and his girlfriend head for her farm home in New Zealand to spend time there after her visa to the UK has run out. Simon is a London boy and has no experience of farming whatsoever, but he has plenty of enthusiasm to make up for it, which leads to amusement aplenty.

Being a farm girl at heart myself, I loved his adventures as a complete novice in dairy farming and reading about how he learned from all the mistakes he made.

I also loved Jazz, the dog, and the smart cows, and I had many a chortle over the scrapes Simon got into. I think anyone who has lived and worked on a farm, especially a dairy farm, will be able to relate to some of the problems he encountered, but there were others entirely of his own making that had me chuckling merrily. What is amazing is how he fitted in so well with the family despite being such a ‘city boy’.

Add to these stories some different adventures around beautiful New Zealand with girlfriend Fiona, plus the joys of understanding a new culture and a different English, and you have a fun journey of discovery for a young man fresh from London.

This is a great read with lots of humour and charm. Highly recommended.

The link to the book is here although it is available on all Amazon stores.

My review of his first book, The Coconut Wireless, is here.

Ghosts in My Heart by Delyse Alorah Arliotis

Firstly, I have to say I don’t normally read books of this genre, but I found Ghosts in my Heart quite riveting. Always attracted by any story set in South Africa, I am especially curious about what life was like in the worst days of apartheid. This memoir doesn’t directly discuss the iniquities of the apartheid system because the author was writing from the perspective of a child and teenager, but it shows she was very conscious of the appalling injustices even then.

The book drew me in from the first page and I found it a desperately sad story of horrible neglect, both emotional and physical. Delyse was literally a poor little rich girl. The daughter of wealthy, high-society parents, she suffered the most appalling deprivations and, together with her adopted brother, was both disregarded and discarded for her entire childhood. When she was small the only people to really care for her and show her kindness were black servants.

It is hard to believe such dysfunctional families existed in such an affluent environment, but the irony is evident: it was because of this extreme affluence that Delyse and her brother could be subjected to such abuse. Her parents were too busy living their high society life to care about anyone else, let alone their own children. There are some pretty shocking stories in the book involving the treatment of the servants as well. I found these quite distressing but also revealing in that they told me more about why the struggle to liberate the blacks was so bloody than historical facts could do alone. After having read other books about such dysfunctional South African families at the time, I feel this memoir adds to the picture I have built about the atrocious effects of apartheid on society as a whole. Privilege and entitlement do not only affect the those being downtrodden; it has a severely negative effect on those indulging in it.

On the upside, I loved reading about Johannesburg at that time. Having lived there for a decade in the nineties, it was fascinating to read about the different areas that used to be fashionable suburbs and are no longer. I enjoyed reading about lively, vibrant Hillbrow, which was still a popular night life area when I first lived in Jo’burg.

Delyse Arliotis had much to recover from and cope with throughout the rest of her life and I am glad to see she has found a degree of peace now. While a tragic book in many ways, it is uplifting in demonstrating how resilient the human spirit can be. It also confirms my own feelings that, despite its many problems, South Africa lives in our hearts forever. This is a remarkable memoir that I can recommend to anyone interested in reading about South African history or on surviving an abusive childhood.

The link to the book on Amazon US is here, but it is available on all other Amazon market places.

From Fear to Serenity by Jacky Donovan

I finished this travel memoir by Jacky Donovan a couple of weeks ago now, but have only just got round to posting my review here. It’s already on Goodreads and Amazon.

Anyway, this is one of those unputdownable accounts where every page has you on the edge of your seat. I must say I breathed a huge sigh of relief for the author when I reached the end.

From Fear to Serenity is a gripping, first-hand account of Jacky’s experiences when she was caught in the middle of the devastating earthquake that hit Lombok in Indonesia in 2018.

The sounds, the smells, the fear and the chaos are all vividly and realistically evoked. I could not have imagined the terror of being caught up in such a situation so far from anyone I know until I read this book. But Jacky coped wonderfully, and her writing recreates her own feelings of anxiety and tension brilliantly. Not only that, she managed to make friends and comfort people, even while dealing with her own fear, a testament to her resilience and compassion. This is a terrific, well-written memoir, which I can recommend very highly. I’m so glad you lived to tell the tale, Jacky Donovan!

The link to the book on Amazon US is here, but it’s available on all Amazon market places.

Two Wheels and A Will by Colin Hunter

I received this book as an ARC, but have now bought it because, much to my surprise and delight, I find I want to read it again. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure if I would really get into it, given Colin Hunter’s sporting expertise. I was afraid it might be too technical for me despite my former passion for long-distance cycling. So imagine my astonishment when I discovered it was all quite fascinating.

Not only did I enjoy the story of the endurance bike-packing tour that Colin’s clients embarked upon, but I found all the background information about weight ratios, diet, training and packing incredibly interesting. These chapters together with the history and culture of the various Pyrenean towns the cyclists passed through as well as tips about local food specialities made the book a wonderfully rich and absorbing read.

What made it even more compelling was the sense of excitement the author builds into the chapters about the participating cyclists. Will they or won’t they make it to the end of this gruelling but stunningly beautiful tour? Whether you are a keen cyclist, a traveller or simply someone who enjoys books about different experiences with a good dose of excitement, Colin Hunter’s Two Wheels and Will ticks all the boxes. Highly recommended!

The link to the book is here

Walking Europe’s Edge by Stephen Powell

Walking Europe’s Edge is Stephen Powell’s new and absorbing travel memoir about a marathon 1500 kilometre walk he made through Portugal. As it says in the blurb, “Away from the mass tourism, he wanted to form his own unhurried impressions of this very distinctive country.”

I was fortunate enough to be given the pre-publication draft and found it a captivating read. Writing from his long experience as a journalist for Reuters (27 years, I believe), he enriches the reader with his insights and impressions of the country’s history, culture, scenery and spirit. For me, the book was a fascinating journey of discovery through Portugal’s lesser-known provinces. I learnt about cities I’d never heard of; I found that Porto only became an attractive destination at the beginning of the millenium; and I read about the background, arts, literature and economy of the many unknown, but iconic Portuguese towns he stayed at on route.

In doing so, Stephen Powell outlines the country’s phenomenal empire history, shows us where its poets lived and loved and talks to scholars, estate agents and even bar owners in his quest to feel the pulse of Portugal. On his journey, he lodged with local people, slept under the stars and walked through areas so remote he wondered if he would find his way out. To me, it seems hardly possible to experience such isolation in such a small country, but from his evocative descriptions, I gained a sense of its beauty and its alluring magic too.

Throughout his walk, the author became deeply attached to Portugal, but reader beware: this is not a rosy-hued account. There are no rose-tinted glasses here and Stephen Powell does not flinch from discussing the real state of modern-day Portugal as revealed by the Portuguese experts he spoke to.

I loved his first book, The First Toast is to peace (see my review here), and can recommend Walking Europe’s Edge just as highly. And by the way, there are lovely illustrations as well provided by two of his daughters.

The link to the Kindle book on Amazon US is here.

Chestnut, Cherry and Kiwi Fruit Sponge: a final year to write home about by Lisa Rose Wright

I have loved all Lisa Rose Wright’s memoirs and been lucky enough to Beta read two of them, including this one. From her Camino walk travelogue, the trip which inspired her to move to Galicia to begin with, to this latest in the Writing Home trilogy, I’ve felt I was a personal friend reading her letters to her mum. Added to and embellishing these missives were her diary entries and her vivid descriptions of life in this very beautiful corner of north-western Spain.

Now I was already in awe of Lisa and her husband S’s achievements in renovating an old and ruined Spanish farmhouse, but when they finally convince Mum to move to Spain with them, they embark on renovating yet another, and maybe even more derelict cottage for her. What a couple! This then is the memoir that covers the final period of letters home until Mum comes to join them, a move followed with some lovely chapters about how she settles to life in Spain at the grand age of 83 (all this is in the blurb, so these are not spoilers). In her letters, diary and narrative Lisa describes the challenges and successes of the new project with great humour and much affection for the array of Spanish tradesmen they deal with, as well as for the charming misunderstandings of their Spanish neighbours and the (sometimes hilarious) help they received from volunteer Workaways.

It’s a rich feast of experiences for the reader that includes everything from headaches with Spanish bureaucracy to ‘downtime’ visits to fiestas, historic towns and stunning beaches.

For foodies too, there are recipes and cooking information aplenty; for animal lovers, there are triumphs and tragedies with chickens, cockerels, kittens and cats; for gardeners, there are vegetables to be grown and tips to be gleaned.

I loved it all and learnt and laughed in equal measure. This is a delightful memoir I was sorry to finish and I’m even sorrier there won’t be any more letters home (although I’m so pleased for Lisa and her mum that they are reunited). I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The link to the book on Amazon US store is here, but it’s available on all other Amazon stores. It will be released on 1 October; however, you can pre-order it now.

For anyone interested in finding out more about Lisa’s background, I interviewed her earlier in the year, a post you can read here.